BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT - 2008
This St. Paul newcomer hasn't yet received the accolades of some of our favorite French restaurants, such as Vincent and Cave Vin, though it's certainly deserving. Meritage offers all the Gallic standards, from steak frites to omelet du jour, and while the cassoulet and French onion soup might not have the looks of Carla Bruni, one bite proves they have all the intrigue. The restaurant's point of distinction is that chef Russell Klein (a French-trained New Yorker who learned from Jacques Pepin and cut his teeth at Manhattan's grande dame of French cooking, La Caravelle) brings an American sensibility to classic Escoffier style. That means he honors tradition by rolling out the cheese cart, but also gets creative with striped bass and chestnut-stuffed quail. The dining room's design, though, is what really transports across the Atlantic. The historic Hamm Building feels like a Parisian brasserie, with its grand picture windows, white tile floor, and French pop music on the stereo.